Monday, April 12, 2010

Roma and Vatican City - Day 2

Day two in Italy was our Vatican City day. we started the day with some fresh pastries from the bakery on the corner of Campo di Fiori - a recommendation from Richard's boss. We loved it so much, we went back twice more. But that morning, we just had croissants to accompany our stroll to the Vatican.

To say I was looking forward to this day of spiritual pilgramage would be an understatement of grand proportions. I had booked the Scavi Tour, which allows guided access to the necropolis under the Vatican and both the original and current tomb of St. Peter. The tour starts in the Vatican Grottoes where you are taken down a small hidden stair case, then through two sets of electronically-secured glass doors that keep the necropolis humidty and temperature controlled. Our guide, an art restorer at the Vatican, first showed us several tombs, both Christian and Pagan. These 2000+ year-old tombs were some of the first rediscovered when researchers started excavating under the Vatican decades ago. As you head through these tombs you learn the different ways researchers have identified the resting places as Pagan and Christian during this transitional time in history. I wish photos were allowed of the beautiful mosaics decorating some of the earliest Christian tombs. It's pretty amazing to be walking on ground and through doors that had last been used or even seen by people before 200AD. Finally you get to St. Peter's original resting place, the  "Trophy of Gaius". When archeologists first excavated this area, they were extremely disappointed to not find St. Peter's remains. But they later discovered a nearby spot with ancient graffiti honoring St. Peter. This along with several other signs, lead them to the discovery of St. Peter's final resting place where the remains had been moved in an effort to protect and preserve them. We ended the tour after a moment of prayer in that sacred spot. And we said goodbye to our guide at the tomb of Pope John Paul II. This reintroduced us quickly to the throngs of people we had come to expect at popular sights in Rome. I'm very grateful for our small tour. The intimate number of only 12, made the Vatican experience much more enjoyable. We spent the rest of our morning experiencing the splendor of St. Peter's Basillica.

After a quick snack and rest, we headed to the Vatican Museums. To see everything that these museums hold, would take a lifetime, I'm sure. You follow a one-way system through to the Sistine Chapel. After our trek through the Raphael Rooms, Map Room, Hall of Statues, among many others, we and about 1000 other people were able to enjoy the Sistine Chapel. It was breathtaking, to say the least. Even the crowds couldn't reduce the beauty of these works. The museums are simply exhausting to get through as evidenced by crowds in the pictures below and the sleeping couple we found in the gardens. We only spotted them as we sat for a rest ourselves. See below.

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